A major new survey of the UK public by King's College London in partnership with Ipsos MORI shows there is strong understanding of the realities of Covid-19 and support for the government's measures – but there also remain widespread misperceptions, and many are struggling with life under "lockdown".
The survey is based on 2,250 interviews with UK residents aged 18-75, and was carried out between 1 and 3 April 2020.
1. Perceptions and misperceptions
On average, the public have a clear view of the seriousness of the health threat from Covid-19, and large majorities understand most of the key actions required of them. But this hides a diverse range of views and many misperceptions:
- A quarter believe the conspiracy theory that the virus was probably created in a laboratory, which increases to 45% among those who oppose the government’s lockdown measures.
- Nearly a third (31%) think “most people” in the UK have probably already had the virus without realising it. It is not possible to say whether this is true or false with certainty, in the absence of extensive testing, but the claim has been challenged by many scientists as it is based on unrealistic assumptions and contradicts other available evidence.
- One in seven (15%) still think people are more likely to die from seasonal flu than coronavirus, while the large majority of scientific estimates suggest that the latter is more deadly.
- At the other end of the spectrum, 29% believe coronavirus is either 20 times or 10 times more likely to kill you than seasonal flu (10% and 19% respectively).
- Two in five (39%) think they should be shopping “little and often to avoid long queues”, when government advice is to only shop for basic necessities as infrequently as possible.
- One in 10 (10%) believe they should visit elderly relatives in their homes to check on them – which official guidance warns against.
There is also a lack of awareness of the extent of police powers to deal with the crisis:
- Only three in 10 (31%) realise the police can detain people they suspect of having coronavirus or use reasonable force to return people to their homes.
- And just 9% realise the police can require people to take a test for coronavirus.
Significant minorities of the public are already struggling under the current lockdown measures, and more expect to in the coming weeks:
- On average, people say it will be six weeks before the current measures become extremely difficult for them to cope with.
- One in seven (15%) say it is already extremely difficult to cope, and a further 14% expect it be in the next four weeks.
- Younger people are more likely to find it difficult: 42% of 16-24s are already finding it extremely difficult, or expect to in the next four weeks.
- One in five (22%) say they already can’t afford essential items or housing costs, or that they are certain/very likely to during the crisis.
However, there is an understanding that the measures will be in place for some time:
- 41% think it will be six months or more before current restrictions are lifted.
- 51% think it will take a year or more for life to return to normal.
- 42% think it will be over a year before the economy grows.
When it comes to the possible end stages of the crisis, there are varying levels of optimism:
- A third of people (32%) expect more than 20,000 deaths as a result of coronavirus, including 11% who think it will be over 100,000.
- 48% think it will take 18 months or longer to vaccinate the population against coronavirus, but 22% think it will take six months or fewer.
How we see reality and the future matters …
- …those who think coronavirus was probably created in a lab are over twice as likely to have met up with friends during lockdown than those who don’t believe this (12% vs 5%), and to think too much fuss is being made about coronavirus (24% vs 10%).
- …those who think we’ll have a vaccine within three months are nearly four times as likely to have met up with friends during the lockdown than those who think a vaccine will take longer (19% vs 5%), and over twice as likely to think we’re making too much fuss (28% vs 12%).
The risk from the virus and the changes in behaviour required are having an impact on some people’s welfare and wellbeing:
- Half of people (49%) say they have felt more anxious or depressed than normal as a result of coronavirus.
- 38% have slept less or less well than normal.
- 35% have eaten more food or less healthy food than normal.
- 19% have drunk more alcohol than normal.
- 19% have argued with their family or housemates more than normal.
- 6% have phoned a counselling or support service.
- 25% of people are checking social media several times a day for updates on coronavirus, and 7% are checking once an hour or more.
However, people are also supporting each other more:
- 60% have offered help to others, and 47% have received help from others.
- 6% say they have signed up to NHS Volunteer Responders, and a further 11% say they will.
There is some uncertainty about the government’s overall strategy:
- 58% think that the government’s original plan was for a significant proportion of the population to develop “herd immunity” to the virus.
- People are more likely to agree than disagree that the government’s response has been confused and inconsistent (42% vs 31%) and that the government acted too slowly (62% vs 16%).
However, there is significant approval of much of the official response:
- A majority (58%) agree that the government has responded well to the shifting scientific advice and situation.
- There is near-universal support (89%) for the current measures, with 68% strongly agreeing with them.
- Just 14% think that “too much fuss” is being made about the risk – in stark contrast to the H1N1v/swine flu pandemic in 2009/10, when 55% of UK residents thought too much fuss was made of the outbreak.
- There is strong support for additional police powers, with 81% supporting them.
Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
“People have generally got the message about how serious the threat from the virus is, and the importance of the measures being required of them. But at a time when the government is warning it may bring in more severe restrictions if enough people don’t follow the rules, this research shows there is a significant minority who are unclear on what some of them are, as well as many who still misjudge the scale of the threat from coronavirus or believe false claims about it. And this matters: how we see current realities and the future is often related to how strictly we follow the guidelines and our attitudes to the lockdown measures.
“There are also significant minorities who are already finding the measures to contain the virus extremely difficult, and more who expect this to be the case soon. The range of impacts that people say they’re experiencing include real financial difficulties, in not being able to pay for essential items or housing, and on broader wellbeing, from lost sleep, increased anxiety, drinking and arguments at home.
“Despite this, the government’s recent stricter actions are viewed very positively, much more so than their overall strategy, with people likely to think the approach has been confused and inconsistent. This is likely to partly relate to the strong impression among many that the original aim was to achieve ‘herd immunity’ – although there is now greater sense that the overriding objective is to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.”
Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI, said:
“It’s becoming clear that people are beginning to suffer due to the restrictions stemming from the Covid-19 outbreak. It’s incredibly concerning that half of people say they are feeling more anxious or depressed. Very worryingly, a fifth of people already have financial difficulties or think they are very likely to during the crisis. Combined with the fact that half of people believe that it’s likely to be a year or more until life returns to normal, the silver lining that 60% have volunteered to help people is more needed than ever.
“These results show that while there is broad support for the government measures and clearly people are getting the main message, there is still confusion about many of the details so there is a real need for the government to continue to emphasise communicating with the public, repeatedly and clearly.”
The research was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of King’s College London.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,250 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 1st and 3rd April 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government
office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.